Amply: A Web of Trust for Children

Amply is a new kind of software platform that builds trust. This provides every child with their own self-sovereign digital identity. It enables children to receive benefits and services that they might have previously been excluded from. For instance, Amply is being used to replace an existing paper-based system to register children for a government funded pre-school subsidy in South Africa. Service providers use a mobile app to verify children’s attendance at classes and to capture other useful information. This will increase trust in the funding mechanism and make funding available to more children who need it. It will save administration time and costs. And it will provide really useful information about how and where services are being delivered.

Amply is unique in that it places each individual child at the centre of their relationships with Early Childhood Development services in a way that is ‘self-sovereign’ and directly beneficial to them. This means that a child’s digital identity and personal data are privately owned and controlled by the individual (with some help from their guardians). Over time, their life records become a rich source of data and value that can be used to receive services and insights that will become more predictive, precise, personalised, preventive, and participatory.

With consented access to personal data and identity assurance, entirely new classes of innovative applications can be developed for both local physical and distant virtual services. This is a big deal for growing a web of trust around children, to meet their developmental needs.

Is It Proprietary?

Amply is being developed as Open Source software. Open standards for Self-sovereign Decentralised Digital Identity will be foundational for the Web of Trust and will contribute towards the Sustainable Development Goal (16:9) to provide legal identities for all by 2030. We believe that offering open source applications of these standards is the only way to achieve interoperability, user adoption, and accelerated code development.

In fact, the distributed public ledgers (Blockchains), distributed file storage, and databases on which Amply is built are themselves open-source. This is fundamentally necessary for security and trust. It also creates more flexibility, freedom and innovation in how applications are adapted and used.

Open Source makes business sense for us because the value of our proposition increases as personal data grows with each new service that connects to the platform. This is also congruent with our vision for Amply to provide the tools and expertise for anyone to build decentralised applications that can amplify early childhood development impacts.

How We Arrived Here Today

Society has become increasingly reliant on centralised services that can’t really be trusted to meet our human needs in ways that will be sustainable. Years of professional experience in health and international development brought the realisation that the access models we have worked so hard to scale for institutional supply of essential services, financing, medicines, workforce and so on will never meet growing and changing population needs.

Innovative alternatives are necessary. This led to an exploration of the idea of ‘connected development’ and how to apply concepts such as Social Physics to new service designs that could enable information and value to flow more freely through dynamic networks.

And then Bitcoin arrived, unlocking blockchain technology to the world! Suddenly it seemed feasible to use these new decentralised information and communication protocols to somehow engineer our ideas into possible solutions. We started experimenting with use-cases and began proposing Proof of Concept projects. Eventually, with the backing of visionary funding partners, including The Innovation Edge, we got the opportunity to begin building towards our vision.

Intertwined: 9needs, Amply and Consent

9Needs was originally formed in 2012 as something of a skunk-works for selectively taking on interesting research and development projects. Our intention was to incubate potential startup ideas aligned with the principles of human-scale development (hence ‘9Needs’) and to launch these when they got traction.

These ideas really started to gain traction in 2015, as blockchain technology caught on and we received innovation funding to implement proof of concept projects from The Innovation Edge. We participated in the Barclays Rise Techlab Africa startup accelerator programme in the final quarter of the year and received the backing of Barclays Africa to build the Consent software protocol for exchanging personal data assets between trusted identities. This is the underlying platform on which Amply applications are built. We have intentionally kept a low public profile over the past year, focusing on delivering our proof of concepts. During next year we will transition to scale.

The team has grown through remarkable people volunteering their support and wanting to get involved in pursuing a mission that we all believe in. We have extremely open, innovative and inclusive ways of working with partners, collaborators, clients and funders. And we are serious about putting into practice the ideas we are working on. We have embarked on a plan to transition 9Needs into a full venture production studio that will be rebranded as TrustLab, based in Cape Town. This will invest in building skills, partnerships and user interfaces for implementing real-world solutions of decentralised applications for the Web of Trust.

The Amply Identity Protocol

We believe that Amply will help accelerate results and improve the lives of the world’s most vulnerable children by providing tools for delivering High-Definition services that are information-driven. This has two important dimensions: First we ensure that information is high-resolution. This means resolving all data to unique and durable digital identifiers (Decentralised Digital Identity) registered on a decentralised public key infrastructure.

Then we ensure that all data collection, processing, and reporting is high-fidelity. This means that data can be trusted as it is captured in a digital format with metadata and built-in error checking, logged with time-stamping, hashed (to provide immutable proof) and notarised on a public ledger (when relevant). All transactions are associated with authenticated identities, for accountability.

The system generates trustworthy, rich transactional data and metadata in imperative semantic formats, for instance using definitions. By encrypting the data and storing all personally identifiable information within an individual’s own personal data store, a detailed record can be built up over time for each person. Valuable derivative data assets, such as risk scores, can be derived from this personal information, to benefit the individual and generate population-based data analysis can benefit ECD programmes.

The Amply protocol enables permissioned access to personal data, with fine-grained access controls and transaction logging, using smart contracts on the Ethereum blockchain. This is truly an open platform for innovation! The software and data standards we use make Amply completely inter-operable with any other standards-based digital service. This will include the entire ecosystem of decentralised applications that is emerging on platforms such as Ethereum. We know that networked information grows exponentially and this creates massive potential for future applications of this information that we believe will directly benefit children.

The Road Ahead

Our recent investment from the UNICEF Innovation Fund will enable further technical development of the Amply data analytics, reporting, and information management capabilities for Early Childhood Development. This will be crucial for national scale-up of the application platform in South Africa that is planned for 2017. It will also enable us to work with international partners to share the Amply platform with other regions and to adapt this to new use-cases that could benefit children in other parts of the world.

We look forward to making this journey with you and sharing our progress — one child at a time.